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Why does all popular software become bloated?

Why does all popular software become bloated?

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Over the weekend, I read an articled entitled Superior Alternatives to Crappy Windows Software.  This is not to suggest that Windows is crappy, but that there are applications that run on Windows that are lousy.  There are a lot of points that I agree with (except MS Office – it runs fine for me and Google Docs does not do anywhere close to what I need it to do, although it is way better at sharing with others than Office is unless you use Sharepoint).

But as I read through the article, I thought to myself “These are great points.  But why does all popular software eventually become lousy?”

Some examples:

  • The case against Adobe Acrobat Reader is sooooo true.  It’s slow, takes forever to load, and updates all the time to fix its security vulnerabilities.  It’s unstable.  Indeed, a few weeks ago when I discovered PDF X-Change Viewer, I liked it to so much that I uninstalled Acrobat Reader.

  • It mentions Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) as a good alternative to the bloated Norton or McAfee.  MSE is light and fast.  Almost all other A/V is slow and bloated and hog system resources.  Many of the previous versions of Windows crashed because of incompatibilities with A/V software (but unfairly Windows picked up all of the blame).

  • It plugs Trillian or Miranda while recommending against Live Messenger, AIM and you could easily throw in Yahoo Messenger.  Those other ones all have way too much stuff and way too many ads.  The pure messaging clients are sleek and don’t do a whole lot… other than work.

  • It says not to use iTunes and instead says to use pretty much anything other than iTunes.  I agree with this, too, I am not a fan of iTunes.  In fact, I buy all of my own mp3’s off of Amazon.  Amazon has started to get into the irritating act of bloatware because when you buy them, they default to getting you to install their Cloud service and download manager or whatever it is you are supposed to buy and you have to actively click around it to just download to your computer.  Stop making me install extraneous software, Amazon!

Most of these pieces of software that are now bloated were at one time nimble and quick.  No longer.  They do more and now aren’t as good as their competitors.  If I had to choose between doing more and responding slower, or doing less and responding faster, I pick faster.  I can live without most bloated features.

The problem is that the bloatware updates better than the younger, faster stuff.  For example, in PDF X-Change Viewer, I don’t know if the software is up-to-date.  I have to go to the Help –> Check for Updates.  Here’s what it says:

image

What does this mean?  Do I want to download and install them?  Is my software out of date or not? I don’t know.  I guess I have to check to see what version I am running:

image

Um, so let me see here.  It is version 2.5, Build 197.0.  The update window says 2.5.198 so I guess I am out of date.  But why couldn’t it just say that it was out-of-date in clear text somewhere?

I have the Qualys Browsercheck plugin installed and it tells me whether or not Adobe Acrobat is out of date, whether Flash is out of date, and whether my browser is out of date.  It also tells me if I have A/V on and if the Windows Firewall is on.  I love this plugin.

But it doesn’t tell me if my little replacement software that replaces the bloatware is out of date.  There’s no handy-dandy link either that I can click to update it, either.  I rely on the plugin to tell me if key software is updated or not.

And that’s the problem with these little guys.  I’ve gotten used to auto-updates, not to manually checking to see if something the latest version.  I’ve gotten lazy, but I like being lazy!  That’s the whole point of using a computer!  While on the one hand because these pieces of software are not so widespread that they have attracted hackers yet, on the other hand, if they ever do attract malware authors, I (along with most other people) would be vulnerable because the companies that develop them haven’t gotten the auto-update service yet.

You can see the dilemma – better software doesn’t update and leaves me less secure.  But better updating software has way more stuff than I want and drags down performance making me want to install an alternative.

Why can’t software update automatically and not be bloated?

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  • Bloat and backward compatibility go hand in hand. So age has something to do with it.

    Also, I don't consider Messenger to be bloated. I have it start when I log into Windows and I can't notice a performance difference between having it on or off. But I compare it to Skype. If I have Skype load at log in, there's a noticeable delay to a responsive desktop, even if resuming from sleep. Just to test memory usage I turned on Skype and it quickly jumped to the second largest memory user on my system, and that's with even no contacts online.

  • Hi,

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    <a href="www.unistal.com/windows-data-recovery.html">Windows Data Recovery</a>

  • I like this tool for tracking 3rd party software.  Secunia has an enterprise version that is supposed to automagically patch 3rd party stuff as well.

    secunia.com/.../personal

  • Hi

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    <a href="www.unistal.com/exchange-recovery-tool.html">Edb to PST</a>

  • I second the Secunia PSI suggestion. It doesn't tell me when there are new versions of stuff unless there's a security problem but for most software products, I just don't care.

    Some programs have made the entire update process so painless that I get the new versions just because they exist (compliments to Paint .NET and uTorrent for that). On the flip side, Paint .NET and uTorrent generally aren't seen as "bloated" so...I'm not sure where I'm going here. :)

  • Since software inevitably becomes more bloated, you would want to avoid updating to newer versions unless they have added required functionality. Although, these days almost every small freeware product includes an updater of some kind, which is often bloated, always consuming memory or network bandwidth. The simpler the software product, the more focused it is to perform its main function (such as only drawing vector graphics and text, and not dealing with scripting and videos and tight system integration), the less potential it has to create real security issues.

    Google Docs definitely is bloated relative to the functionality it offers (around or below Office 2000 level). It's a JavaScript "app" after all for which you have to start an entire, often unstable web browser. Those who think that Google Docs might be enough, should consider using an older version of Office without any managed code.

    The "security" patches are not as important as Microsoft and other big players claim them to be, in order to hold customers on a perpetual upgrade cycle.

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